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Wednesday, June 29, 2022
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When I was an NYU undergrad, I joined the NYU Pep Band.

(What is a “pep band?”)

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, pep means “meeting to inspire enthusiasm.” The pep rally or the pep talk goes back to @1915.

(Why did you just use the at symbol?)

Before the internet @ was used to mean approximately or circa.

(So, about the time you attended college?)

Thank you so much for that.

It was the job of the pep band to provide music during halftime and time outs at the NYU basketball games.

(How much music could you play during a 20 second time out?)

We would play a few bars of the “Sanford and Son” TV show theme song or a few bars of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

(We?)

A drummer, a bass player, four-man horn section..and me on guitar.

(You just happened to know the theme song to “Sanford and Son”?)

We had music charts for all of these songs.

(But...you can’t read music.)

It didn’t matter. If it was a rock tune like the “Peter Gunn” theme or a Rolling Stones tune, I already knew the chords. If it was a TV theme song, I threw in some guitar licks over the horn section.

I just needed to know what the key was.

(You messed that up, didn’t you?)

Once. For 99% of pop music, you can just play a Chuck Berry guitar solo like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future.”

(But you didn’t.)

I thought that I would be clever.

(Which you are not...)

Which I am not. In music theory the relative major of a Chuck Berry solo is three steps over from where my hands would normally be.

(I’m not sure what you are telling me, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you got this wrong.)

So wrong that the horn section all turned and stared at me like....

(Your hair had caught fire?)

No, that happened a few weeks later...in the lab for my chemistry class.

(Did anyone try to light a cigarette off of you?)

Let’s just say that I gave myself bangs.

(Wait. How long was your hair?)

Halfway down my back.

(Seriously, why did your parents let you do that?)

To quote my mom, “You were getting good grades, you weren’t doing drugs and you came home for Shabbos, so we let you think you were rebelling.”

(You got played.)

Pretty much.

(Did you have to grow your hair out to play music?)

No, but all the guitar players I idolized had long hair: Alex Lifeson of Rush, Slash of Guns N’ Roses and especially Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

By the time I joined the pep band, I had been playing guitar for more than five years and I had become completely obsessed with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. I didn’t just want to play his songs, I wanted to sound like him; I wanted to look like him.

Years later I would come to understand that part of the attraction for me was the harmonic quality of the way he used both major and minor scales over certain chord forms.

(I don’t understand.)

Think “Pachelbel’s Canon” in D. It begins on a minor chord and resolves to a major chord.

(Classical music for rock music?)

Not quite, but close enough.

In the days before YouTube, Instagram or TikTok, the only place to watch videos was on MTV…and that channel loved to play Led Zeppelin’s Madison Square Garden performance. So, when it was announced that the NYU Pep band was playing Madison Square Garden, I saw my chance to walk in my hero’s leather pants.

(With a four-piece horn section, playing 20 second snippets of TV show theme songs?)

All that concerned me was that I was going to play my guitar in Madison Square Garden….but I had to make a decision.

(What decision? Which pants to wear?)

Well, my leather pants went well with my snakeskin jacket.

No, the game we were playing...

(Excuse me?)

Sorry, the game we were providing music for was on Saturday.

(So?)

To quote “The Big Lebowski”:

“Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work. I don’t drive a car. I don’t (expletive deleted) ride in a car. I don’t handle money. I don’t turn on the oven and I sure as (expletive deleted) don’t (expletive deleted) roll!”

I agonized over this for days. I was being given an opportunity that would probably never come again.

I could either…follow my dream but spend the rest of my life knowing that giving in to my impulses had been more important than my faith.

Or

I could give up my dream and listen to my conscience.

It didn’t matter that my hair reached halfway down my back, or that I could tuck my tzitzis in, I had never taken off my kippah in public and I wasn’t going to start now.

So, how could I show up, on Shabbos, to play guitar with a kippah on my head?

I could pretend I was Jimmy Page, but I could not pretend it wasn’t Shabbos.

I chose to go to shul, not the basketball game. I chose one set of strings over another.

Thirty two years later my hair may be a bit shorter, but I’m still playing guitar...and I still, “don’t roll on Shabbos.”

Sometimes not following your dreams is a good thing.


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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